Infrastructure critical to reform agenda outlined in Queen's Speech

Infrastructure investment is crucial to unlocking economic regeneration plans say business leaders.

Queen Elizabeth II gives the speech written by the Conservative government

Legislative priorities for the next five years were laid out in the Queen’s Speech yesterday leading to calls for government to ensure progress on infrastructure vital to delivering the ambitious reform agenda.  

“Measures to tackle energy security, reporting annually on apprenticeships and the push forward with high speed rail links to connect the country are all welcome moves that will have a positive impact on the economy,” said John Hicks, UK head of government and public at consultant AECOM. “We also welcome the sustained commitment to building a northern powerhouse and devolution of power to cities. To achieve this vision, infrastructure delivery and economic regeneration must remain high on the agenda.”

“The investment and upgrade of infrastructure is crucial to unlocking growth and significant projects such as HS2 hold enormous potential for local areas. It is now crucial that progress on delivering this infrastructure happens quickly," Melanie Leech, chief executive, British Property Federation.

The Queen’s Speech 2015 was the first to be written by a Conservative government in two decades and outlined 26 new pieces of legislation to be delivered during the current Parliament.

This includes Bills for housing, energy, HS2, city devolution, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, health and social care, buses, childcare and policing; alongside legislation such as the Enterprise Bill, EU Referendum Bill and the Tax lock commitment contained in the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Businesses warned government not to let the 2017 EU referendum impact on other initiatives.

 “With the starting gun on the EU debate having been fired, the Government must be careful not to let it overshadow the rest of its programme,” said Katja Hall, deputy director general of the Confederation for British Industry (CBI). “Businesses need to see it commit to a genuinely achievable reform agenda, making the UK and the EU more competitive. That must go hand in hand with other measures to boost growth, like expanding aviation capacity and HS2.”

Details of the City Devolution Bill, which will requre cities to elect a Mayor in return for new powers had already been revealed by Chancellor George Osborne and while the idea has been broadly welcomed there remains concern over the willingness of cities to follow this path. "The new government has already invested so much political capital in the idea of English city devolution that it has to be seen to work. But its insistence that cities embrace the mayor-led model favoured by Manchester could prove an early stumbling block. Several other city authorities have shown reluctance to accept a directly elected mayor in return for the extra money - and power - being offered under devolution,” said Jon White, UK managing director of Turner & Townsend.

"Ultimately the debate about mayors is likely to be a short-lived sideshow. The case for devolved power - and the opportunities it will bring for regional businesses, jobs and skills - is compelling. But it does present big challenges too. The devolved authorities will have to build their capability quickly to deliver much bigger projects and demonstrate that they are providing value for money,”said White.

In total there were four Bills pursuing the devolution agenda which ACE chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE said would impact the industry. "Four bills to devolve power will mean more responsibility for the delivery of our networks will fall on local, regional, and devolved authorities. We will wait to see the detail that emerges, however this promises to have a major impact on the consultancy and engineering sector."

He also pointed to the Enterprise Bill as being another significant development. "The prospect of a new Enterprise Bill which will look to address issues around late payment will interest our sector. ACE’s figures suggest on average UK companies spent 4.8% of directors/partners time settling late payment disputes, while larger UK firms and SMEs had to wait 80 and 82 days, respectively, for payment. Reducing these burdens will have a big impact on the industry and ACE has long argued that reducing this burden to effect maximum of 30 days payment immediately should be a priority.”

More certainty on specific infrastructure projects would also have been welcome he said. “Overall announcements on the likes of Crossrail 2, new housebuilding, HS2 phase 2, which featured in the Conservative Manifesto would have been welcome as such prominence would have given confidence to industry in the government’s continued support for it.

By limiting infrastructure legislation, however, the government has demonstrated it is keen not to meddle with what has already been enacted. Stability and certainty have been the watch words for our sector for so long, perhaps the government is finally taking them to heart.”

Housing plans were also outlined in the speech.  “Our Housing Bill will dramatically extend the Right to Buy to the tenants of Housing Associations – putting home ownership within the reach of 1.3 million more families,” explained David Cameron in a briefing on the speech. “We will require councils to sell high-value council houses and put the money into building affordable homes. We will get 90 per cent of suitable brownfield land ready for development. And we will build 200,000 discounted starter homes for young first-time buyers. All this will mean there are more houses for people to buy.”

RICS said more must be done to tackle the housing crisis. “Government is clearly putting housing at the heart of its agenda but ‘Right to Buy’, starter homes and brownfield together still fall short of a comprehensive supply strategy to the housing crisis. There is a huge amount of detail required on ‘Right to Buy’ if Housing Associations and the people who need them are not to be disadvantaged,” said Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at RICS.


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